PetSmart's Dumb DecisionPosted by Mark Hawthorne on August 13th, 2007
Knight, a black rabbit with large brown eyes, cowers in the corner of his cage at a Sonoma County, California, animal shelter. Like so many other bunnies, Knight was relinquished to the shelter by guardians who bought him at a local pet store and then decided they no longer wanted a bunny. Now scared and distrustful, Knight hides from strangers who come to the shelter, making it more difficult to place him in a permanent home.
Sadly, countless rabbits like Knight are purchased at pet stores and then abandoned at shelters – or worse, dumped in a park, where they will quickly be attacked by predators. In fact, most rabbits end up dead or discarded before their first birthday.
This reality makes PetSmart’s recent announcement to breed and sell dwarf rabbits in spite of its adoption partnerships with rabbit rescue groups all the more distressing. Their callous decision to sell rabbits while thousands of healthy bunnies languish in shelters across the U.S. and Canada will cause even more rabbits to be euthanized.
PetSmart claims that its sale of baby rabbits will not exacerbate the rabbit overpopulation problem because 1) all PetSmart dwarf rabbits will be spayed or neutered prior to sale, 2) PetSmart employees will be “trained to instruct the public” regarding their care, and 3) PetSmart will perform “customer-satisfaction surveys” after the purchase of a rabbit and will have a 14-day return policy, in case the rabbit “doesn’t work out.”
While spaying/neutering is good for the rabbit’s health, reduces certain behaviors like marking with urine, and prevents further reproduction, it does not prevent rabbits ending up in shelters or dumped in parks. Potential guardians must be carefully screened to ensure rabbits are going to loving homes and have the skills to care for these special beings. I live with five rescued rabbits in my home, and I can tell you that unlike dogs and cats, bunnies are high-maintenance animals; learning how to care for a rabbit takes time and certainly more instruction than you are likely to receive at a pet store (or even from the average veterinarian). Moreover, PetSmart’s “14-day return policy” emphasizes the public’s fickle nature and gives rabbit guardians a sense that these animals are disposable items, not intelligent, affectionate creatures who deserve our time and attention.
PetSmart has said they decided to sell baby dwarf rabbits only after consulting with a team of “pet care experts.” But according to the House Rabbit Society (HRS), the largest repository of rabbit care experts in the world, HRS was never consulted, nor, as far as they know, were any other rabbit rescue organization.
Petsmart reportedly selected baby dwarf rabbits as the “best type of rabbit for a family.” “This flies in the face of what most rabbit rescuers know from experience, and points to how sadly misinformed PetSmart’s decision is,” wrote HRS President Kathleen Wilsbach in a letter to PetSmart President Robert Moran. “Baby rabbits – like baby animals of any kind – are more destructive and require much more training and supervision than more mature animals, and dwarf rabbits are often significantly more skittish and harder to handle than larger rabbits. Further, dwarf rabbits have a higher incidence of dental disease due to their small, shortened head shape, and this can mean expensive veterinary care as often as every other month.”
Every rabbit (or other animal) purchased from a pet store or breeder means there is one less animal saved from a shelter – and potentially from death. Because of PetSmart’s decision to breed and sell rabbits in spite of its adoption partnerships with HRS chapters and other rabbit rescue groups, the House Rabbit Society and other animal organizations are now encouraging their members to shop elsewhere for their pet supplies.
What you can do:
Please speak up for animals and let PetSmart know that you are unhappy with their decision to sell rabbits in their stores rather than reach out to more rabbit rescue groups to expand their rabbit adoption programs. Please send PetSmart a polite letter or email, or give them a call to express your concerns:
Phone: (800) 738-1385
Fax: (623) 580-6502
19601 North 27th Avenue Phoenix, AZ 85027
You may also want to remind them that Philip Francis, Chairman and CEO of PetSmart, said in a July 1, 2000, interview with Allbusiness.com that “We try to stay on the side of angels with all animals. We do not sell certain animals for specific reasons.” The article then goes on to note that “Rabbits are also taboo. Six weeks before the Easter holiday bunnies become popular pet purchases, but 10 days later the majority of them wind up in shelters. For this reason, PETsMART will not sell rabbits, but it will carry rabbit food and supplies.”
Interested in rabbits as companions?
Rabbits are social animals who make great companions for those willing to provide a secure, loving, indoor environment. Indeed, consigning a rabbit to an outdoor hutch or cage constrains their natural behaviors, subjects them to the danger of predators and inclement weather, and denies you the pleasure of their company. Rabbits flourish indoors, where they can run, dance, and play in safety. You can even train them to use a litter box. But your home needs to be bunny-proofed, since rabbits, who are natural burrowing animals, have a strong biting instinct and will chew on your baseboard or nip through telephone cords. They also need frequent grooming.
Notwithstanding these caveats, rabbits make wonderful companions – especially for vegetarians because of their diet. Anyone thinking of bringing home a rabbit should do their homework by visiting sites like www.saveabunny.org or www.rabbit.org. If a rabbit is right for you, please do not buy from a pet store; instead, contact your local animal shelter, humane society, or rabbit rescue group for information about adopting a rabbit.
Mark Hawthorne is the contributing writer for ALDF’s quarter newsletter The Animal’s Advocate, and he serves on the outreach advisory council for Animal Place, a farmed-animal sanctuary and education center in northern California. He also volunteers with SaveABunny, a rabbit rescue organization.